Fraud fears spark change in ‘garden tax’ payments

The council has stopped calling people to take card details.
The council has stopped calling people to take card details.
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COUNCIL bosses have ordered an immediate change in arrangements for people who cannot pay the so-called 
“garden tax” online amid claims the system was open to fraud.

Staff will no longer phone residents to ask for payment, but instead urge them to phone the council to avoid tricksters cashing in.

Councillor Jason Rust. Picture: Greg Macvean

Councillor Jason Rust. Picture: Greg Macvean

And a further review of the system will also be carried out.

The council wants householders to register and pay online in order to continue receiving garden waste collections after the controversial new £25-a-year charge is introduced in October – but Tories claimed the process for those who cannot do so was open to abuse.

The council says in exceptional circumstances staff may complete the registration process over the phone for customers who struggle to do it themselves – but formal terms and conditions must then be posted to them for approval and the council was originally phoning them to take payment.

Conservative councillor Jason Rust claimed the system was “fundamentally flawed” because anyone could phone residents, pretending to be from the council and obtain their card details.

Now the council says it will only be taking payments via incoming calls and a review of other aspects of the process is under way.

In an e-mail to Cllr Rust the council’s chief internal auditor said: “I absolutely agree that it certainly seems that there is a potential risk of fraud and reputational damage if the council is contacting customers to request payment details via telephone.

“I’ve agreed that Internal Audit will perform a review of the process design and raise findings if there are any control gaps.”

Cllr Rust said: “I strongly welcome the commissioning of this urgent review into the payment process. Residents need to have confidence in the council’s system and I await the findings with interest. It is clear that implementation of this garden tax has not been robustly thought through.”

Delia Henry of charity Age Scotland said it was important to recognise many older people did not wish to, or were unable, to make payments online.

“While the council has made provisions to allow for this, we are concerned that these are too confusing, and may have the unfortunate consequence of more older people being targeted by telephone scams.

“We are glad that the council is reviewing this process and hope a more robust system will reduce the risk of abuse. It is crucial to take into account the needs of those who prefer to complete such tasks face-to-face and that appropriate support is provided.”

A council spokeswoman said: “While we encourage residents to register for the new garden waste service online, as this is the quickest and easiest way to do so, or using self-service kiosks at local council offices, anyone who is unable to do this can ring us to arrange payment over the phone.

“Following the opening of registration for the service and as the process beds in, we have identified ways of streamlining telephone payments and will now only be accepting payments on inbound calls. We will continue to review the process and make improvements where possible, ensuring all transactions are secure.”